It began with a simple question in an e-mail reply to me:
"Can you take your wheelchair outside to enjoy Spring?"
The short answer to that question is yes...but as every chair user knows, where one can go, particularly in a standard ultralight, very much depends on a host of factors such as upper body strength, terrain, weather and man-made obstacles, to name but a few.
In the six years that I've owned my Tilite, I've sunk in loose sand, gotten stuck in mud, had a castor split and fallen from the sidewalk into a ditch next to a major roadway. Additionally, I've had more than my share of uneven or higher-than-allowed-by-law curb cuts, potholes, debris that punctures and pops tubes and leaves one stuck, and uneven pavement, which when hit, left me on my knees in a crosswalk directly in front of a UPS truck at a light. That incident was over quickly, thanks to the friend who was with me and a well-muscled stranger who did not hesitate to grab an arm after righting my chair. At one point, my electronic power-assist wheels got wet in a surprise rain storm. For the cost of the repair, I can buy a new chair. There are alternatives to those electronic power-assist wheels, but I need to find a vendor willing to work with me, and so far, I have not. The politics and pricing among vendors of wheelchairs is yet another post. They may see themselves as wonderful purveyors of mobility technology, but only if one has a pot of ready cash or stellar medical coverage, which is not the case for a majority of those needing such devices in this country. This is in part, why online transactions are often preferred over brick and mortar sales. The price points vary, sometimes dramatically.
My recent foray into the world of all terrain chairs pointed out not only variability with respect to price, but form and function. Mountain Trike, manufactured in the UK, is an all terrain chair that allegedly goes over all types of surfaces, including dirt, snow, uneven pavement and grass. With an almost eight thousand dollar price tag, it will not be alighting at my door anytime soon. An American alternative to this is the all terrain Freedom Chair. It too goes over uneven pavement, bricks, crappy curb cuts, packed sand, grass, dirt and snow, from what I have seen in the promotional materials. It can also be easily disassembled to fit into the trunk of a small car and according to the manufacturer, the chair is small enough to be used inside as well as outdoors and can fit on a standard chair lift for those using public transport. Made from bike parts, it can be taken to a bike shop if any repairs are required and its $2300 or so price tag puts it in reach of more potential users. I also checked out a couple of additional all terrain chairs from Spin Life and Sportaid, but they were clunkier and could not be used easily inside should the need arise. The fact that the wheels are rubber has me a bit concerned since I have a Latex allergy but I'm going to suss this out with the doc or the PT this week. I'll admit it: If this chair can do as claimed, I have a raging case of wheelchair lust. I would like nothing better than to make it my own, taking it out over every surface my ultralight cannot handle and re-staking my claim on the world of parks, beaches, older parts of town and the uneven sidewalks in my own neighborhood...